Does our association’s online registration need an itinerary/scheduler element?

Online registration systems for associations are becoming increasingly sophisticated.  With many systems, an association event registrant can not only register, but actually research classes, plan a schedule and register – all at the same time.  The question is whether this additional functionality is worth its associated cost

The answer is that it depends on your association’s event.  Here are some observations of association event registrations that may help your association decide whether it should add the additional functionality found in many association event registration systems.  All of these observations have been made in the context of associations that provide detailed event information such as class listings on its web site or in a printed/pdf brochure.

– If your association’s event has a relatively simple line-up of a few educational programs or special events, then the extra functionality of itineraries, detailed/searchable class information, speaker bios, etc. is probably not needed. Using the extra functionality during the registration process often takes longer than the attendee wants or needs.

– If your association’s event has a large offering of educational programs or special events, the extra functionality may be useful. However, it will probably only be useful to a subset of your overall attendees.  You might think of your association attendees as falling into one of three groups:  1) Those who will take advantage of few, if any, programs or classes, and are attending primarily for the networking and/or trade show; 2) Those who have researched the classes and events in advance of going to the registration system and know exactly what they want to register for; and 3) Those who don’t know what they want to choose, or are not certain if they want to attend.  Generally speaking, the third group tends to be smaller than the first two groups.  On that basis, the association might think that the extra functionality may not be warranted.  However, this third group represents the opportunity for incremental sales and profits for the association, so despite their smaller numbers, this group could make the extra functionality pay out immediately.  There is one important caveat, however: if the extra functionality slows down the registration process for the first two sets of attendees, there should  be an option to bypass the functionality.  In other words, the association should offer an “express lane” for people who don’t want to browse.  If you don’t do so, you may end up with some unhappy registrants.

– If your association has a complex set of overlapping events and programs, the extra functionality may be very useful for most attendees.  That is because the printed or static information may not be easy to use for planning purposes.  In contrast, the online itinerary or planning tool may provide nice elements such as conflict checking, a “schedule at a glance” for the items chosen, and possibly even a graphical representation of the choices on a timeline.  (As an aside, the need for this technology may suggest that the association event schedule needs to be redesigned or rearranged.  While the technology may allow the attendee to overcome the problem, it may be better to eliminate the problem in the first place, making for a better user experience.)

As online registration technology for association events evolves, tools like searchable class details and customized itineraries will continue to improve, perhaps making them suitable for every association event.  In the meantime, your association can choose from the many available options to find the system and functionality that best meets your needs.

Has your association used registration system functionality such as class schedules and itineraries in the past? What kind of feedback have you received from attendees?

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